China plans to lay 4,415 km of new railway tracks and convert 3,405 km to double lines this year, moving a step closer toward the goal of having a 120,000-km rail network by 2020.
The government will spend 300 billion yuan ($41 billion) on railway projects this year, up from last year's 256 billion yuan, Minster of Railways Liu Zhijun told a conference in Beijing on Friday.
China now has 78,000 km of railways in operation, which is the highest in Asia and third in the world, behind the United States (at least 200,000 km) and Russia (at least 80,000 km).
"In the next three years, China will build and operate 15,000 km of new railways, including 7,000 km of express passenger lines," Liu said.
By 2010, the country will have a transport network that stretches 90,000 km, he said.
At present, 16 high-speed rail projects, stretching 5,600 km, are under construction.
The Beijing-Tianjin intercity railway will be the first of the high-speed lines to open to traffic, with the first services expected to start in August.
A further 10 high-speed lines, with a total length of 4,100 km, will become operational in the near future, including the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, Liu said.
He said the Beijing-Shanghai project is the most important one this year. High-speed trains running at 350 kph can shorten the traveling time between the two cities to five hours.
Zhang Mao, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, told a conference last week that the project will begin before the Spring Festival, which falls on February 7.
According to the government's long-term plans, China will build a total of 12,000 km of high-speed rail lines to link up major cities.
The ministry estimated the rail network will carry 1.418 billion passengers and 3.31 billion tons of cargo this year.
(China Daily January 12, 2008)